shouldn’t have surprised me that I wouldn’t be very good at making mom friends.
I am not particularly good at making friends in general. This is not something I
would’ve said aloud before I had my kid because I’d have been embarrassed. I’m
embarrassed now, but I’m too tired to dwell on it. (This seems to be a large
part of becoming a parent, that you experience the world just as you did
before, your anxieties and fears remain, multiply even, but there is less time
or energy for decorum. So out they billow, like the tail of that mistake of a
shirt you bought last fall when you thought hiding your ass under a long
flapping piece of fabric would be distracting in the right way.)
since puberty, when I lost both the ability to speak at a healthy volume and
the chutzpah to tell other people what to do, my friends have found me, not I
them. This has been a gift – I’ve teetered like a dope on the top of the
seesaw, grounded by women far bolder, louder, and more assured than I.
even if gifts are afforded to me still, in the form of moms I’m lucky to know and to have been found by, I’m hung up these days on the underlying deficiency, the
social paralysis, the unknown thing that keeps me from reaching out, compels me
to say nothing instead of saying all the wrong things.
Every day, I see the other moms at the playground who know each other; I see pictures of gatherings of friends with kids on Instagram and Facebook; and though I have a foot in a couple different lovely mom’s groups, on the rare times when I meet up with them, everybody seems to have a shorthand with another, a lot of things to catch up on, which they do while their children grab each other’s hands and say each other’s names and play in ways that demand a photo be taken. As this is all happening, I watch my child look up from whatever he’s playing with by himself and clock all the connections happening around us. We clock it together. He is too young, I tell myself, to glance over and wither me with his disappointment. But I say it to myself, as though he’s talking to me. You did this, Mom! You haven’t become good friends with these moms AND NOW I’m not good friends with their kids! Look what you’re doing to me, you silent island of a human! They don’t even know my NAME.
If only I could meet a mom and say, “Hey, listen, can you read a couple of my blog entries so you can better understand me and all the feelings I won’t be able to express to you? I have trouble getting real in person and I can already tell you are finding my inadvertent quiet, mannered coldness to be off-putting. I’m really not this nervous or shy! Well, I am, but not after we’ve been friends for six months to a year. By then, I’ll be at least 30% more enjoyable and relaxed! And in two years? I mean, in two years, I might have the guts to do an awkward dance in public upon running into you. I probably won’t do that (I definitely won’t), but I’ll think about it a lot during my approach. I’ll really think about it. That’s something to look forward to, right? Please don’t go! I’m a good listener and I will really think about the things you say to me and if you’re patient, my responses might even be of some interest to you!”
This is not a feasible approach. It is, in fact, a potentially self-destructive approach and one I wouldn’t recommend to anyone (although if it worked, I wouldn’t look back, I’d just fucking go with it).
The thing about all this that makes me lose my breath is that even though sometimes I feel existentially alone, I actually do have friends, friends I’ve known over twenty years and friends I’ve known for less than twelve months, but my son does not yet. Even if I feel like an outsider in the company of others at some moment, every day, I have actual friends who exist, who I can meet for dinner, who I can text or call, whose existence I can, at the very least, remind myself of when my brain is flooded at night with all of that day’s awkward attempts at relating to other humans who have children in their care.
My son might not need friends yet. But he will soon. And I fear that I have passed down to him, either by circumstance or by nature, a future of social ineptitude. I fear that he will, like me, always feel like an outsider, always be hesitant meeting people, smiling hopefully, longingly, along some endless perimeter.
I fear this while knowing that in so many ways, he is not an outsider, he is, as I’ve written here, privileged in ways that make any complaint about some sort of struggle feel petty, even disrespectful.
I don’t want to disrespect struggles far more wearying than mine.
I also don’t want to pretend that I do not wonder, every day, what it is like to have
social confidence to spare. Of course I know that many – if not most –
confident people aren’t necessarily filled to the gills with certainty; it’s
just that their default settings are different from mine. When in doubt, they
thunder or squeal or assert. When in doubt, I watch or squeak or shrug. All this
written, I can remember recent times I’ve betrayed what I’ve said here, times
I’ve surprised myself with effort, times I’ve spoken and not recognized who was
talking because it sounded all right. Very all right. If I fold myself into a
black and white corner this early in the game, I risk doing the same to my son.
I risk doing it to everybody I meet and that is no way to make a friend.
of us are so simple.
I am writing this, watching the wind pick up outside, sending the leaves that are still hanging on into a free fall to the ground. It is unsettling for a minute, like a haunting reminder of the inevitability winter. But it is also so beautiful, it happens every year. The leaves come back. Things feel terrible and strange and impossible and then, in the same moment, they don’t.